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PostPosted: Wed May 15, 2013 6:49 pm 
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Joined: Sun Dec 25, 2011 4:34 pm
Posts: 8
Location: Aberdeen, Scotland
Hi folks,

This is my reworked and now completed third movement – hopefully with rather better sound quality (though the quality on “box” is still a little disappointing compared to dropping the same wav.file onto a CD or playing off the computer). The rest will follow (eventually – first movement needs rework, second needs completing, as does finale). It is called Cannich after one of Scotland wildest and most beautiful Highland glens.
(Third movement reworked and completed wav file)

I have written up my revision process below – there is so little anywhere to help those of us who write straight to the score and look for playback using the tools in Overture and our sound wave software – I thought it might help someone else make a start.

Any better ideas or suggestions of how to use what’s “in the package” – anything else I’ve missed – please share the wisdom.

I write in Notation straight into the Overture score, and use Garritan GPO4 as playback. I had originally thought that was how most people would use the software – but now realise that is not how it is! There is almost nothing on the forums about getting a good playback orchestra straight from the score. There might be other composers out there who do it that way, so please share your tips and solutions to the inevitable problems it throws up: and if anyone is interested, here are some of the issues I have worked through.

First off, having tried notation input into several packages (eg Sibelius, Finale), Overture is brilliant – it is so intuitive and musical – as easy as writing on music paper (only better because you can hear what you are writing and immediately check it). I hoped installing GPO4 would be all that was required for superb playback – and for small ensembles it isn’t bad – but the further I pushed the envelope, the less pleasing the results became - clearly I needed to do more work.

The Aria Player virtual synthesisers load up very easily, and various settings are offered, and the manual is not bad – as long as you understand what is going on. Various controller knobs are offered – ambience and convolution can be set – stereo stage also. It is important to understand that the various controllers are what brings the whole thing to life.

The composer who uses a Midi keyboard and Sonar (or similar) is amongst the controllers immediately, drawing lines and envelopes around notes and passages, or simply doing it live through the keyboard facilities (mod wheel, aftertouch etc.). But the Notation composer uses various music symbols and conventions which invoke those same controllers – we don’t see them, so we fear them! Everything in the packages comes with various values already in place (both Overture and GPO) and it is natural to believe that the values pre-set are “correct” and if I alter them I will “break” a carefully balanced set-up. I discovered this is complete nonsense. So, alter things, experiment, see what difference the changes make – push things to extremes and discover what sound YOU like.

I discovered I needed two basic approaches: first, set the orchestra up as balanced and as good as I can make it – and there are several things to do in Aria Player and Overture to achieve this; then secondly an amount of manipulation to remedy certain dis-satisfactions with the delivered sound – and Overture has a wonderful facility to help here – the Graphics Window! (and I've just seen Don's sneak preview of Overture 5 - great stuff!)

Setting up the orchestra: Aria player offers several screens – Controls: The sound of each instrument can be tweaked in the equalizer by adding decibels to its low sound, mid sound and high sound – and you can decide the value of its mid range frequency. I found this especially useful for cymbals and timpani – and horns. (make sure you switch it on!). I was amazed by how much difference setting the stereo stage values to approximate to orchestra seating positions (GPO is panned already by default) actually made – it added spaciousness and depth. Some of the Instrument Controls offered help “humanise” the sound. Perfect intonation and timing (every conductors dream) actually becomes tiresome and sounds artificial very quickly. CC22 and 23 help avoid this, especially helping with timpani rolls.

Mixer: this will be set too high, so every instrument needs to be set much lower (mine are currently between -35 and -30 and that is probably still far too high). Think in terms of “headroom” – ppp, pp, p, mp, mf, f, ff, fff have all got to fit between that bottom position where you set your initial volume and Zero at the top – my sliders go down to -84, so I reckon I should set up nearer the bottom for fuller sound range.

Ambience is on the next screen, but the SEND button above the mixer slider determines how much of each instrument’s sound is fed into the reverb engine – mine are set between 9 and 12 o’clock – again, try it out. The pan is preset in GPO – but you can over-ride it if you want.

Effects: Convolution and Ambience ought to be self cancelling – either/or – but I use both and find it works – I use similar sized hall pre-sets for both, and keep the pre-delay similar for both. Convolution needs the level up full – I use ambience at about 2 o’clock – with largest concert hall. The GPO samples are “dry”, so ambience/convolution is vital to add that living space resonance to the sounds – experiment and find what you like best. In the same orchestra, make sure all the instruments are playing in the same room!

Overture drop-down menus: Overture VST: The VST instrument rack allows you to load your Aria Players.

Overture and GPO go together almost seamlessly, but Overture has facilities which feed instructions to make the Aria sound engine process the sound fonts in various ways. One of these is velocity – normally giving volume on a keyboard. I found apparently pre-set levels in my Overture which were around 80 (ie forte). Aria uses velocity to change the volume of percussive sounds (drums, cymbals, pizzicato strings), but not for sustaining sounds (woodwinds, brass, bowed strings) for which it uses controller CC#1. So, in Overture Options, select preferences, general, set middle C to C4; Playback, make sure Use Audio Engine is ticked, and in dynamics put in the values for the Dynamic score markings you want to use and select controller Number 1 for volume.

I found the following values on a web site purported to be those settled by Yamaha in the 1990s as a midi standard: 4 pppp, 8 ppp, 24 pp, 40 p, 56 mp, 72 mf, 88 f, 104 ff, 120 fff, 127 ffff, (and 110 sf, 110 fz, 115 sfz, 120 sffz, 110 fp, 115 sfp). These work better than the ones I had before.

In Overture Measures, select “set measure number” – to number the bars – I like beginning of each page/line.

The tracks window needs setting up too, entering all the instruments intended for the orchestra – which relate to the instruments loaded into the synthesiser slots in the Aria Players. I try not to repeat information already input – so leave Vol and Pan, Bank and Patch, but select device, channel and specify the voices and stem directions available to you on the score.

I found that my pizzicato strings were too loud – pp was the same as f: then I remembered that Pizz. uses velocity. Right clicking on any overture music symbol or annotation – pp, mp, mf, hairpins etc. opens a wonderful window which lets you tell it what to do. Yes, there are the preferences I set up, but I prefer to check, and for pizz I have to change the controller to velocity, and for my set-up I only want it to play on voice 2 (voice 1 arco, voice 2 pizz). (Joseph Burrell wrote an excellent tutorial on notation input which shows doing this with hairpins etc.) However this approach doesn’t seem to work on my Overture with velocity. I open the Window, Graphics Window, and there I can draw in the values I want just as I believe Sonar does it – this is a wonderful tool to have available in a Notation package! Since the other function of Velocity according to the GPO Aria manual (table right at the end – shows function in Aria of all the midi controllers – very useful) is to “control initial attack strength” of all non-percussive instruments, I lowered the values for all the instruments so that velocity set was never greater than the CC#1 value – after all, how can a violin play at mp 56 when its initial attack value is up at 80?

I now have an orchestra which is balanced and responds to dynamic markings, and sounds pretty good.

Doubling instrumentation: it is a good rule of orchestration that doubling instruments on a part is bad orchestration – if that part cannot be heard it is because other things are too dense (especially the composer!). Good composition and orchestration should always work – doubling should only be there for the timbre, and should be intentional, not forced by inadequacy. So adding, say, clarinets and oboes to help a flute line be heard is simply wrong – look at the flute dynamics and articulation, and simplify the rest of the orchestra around the line. However in a fully populated orchestral score, horns will need the overlays in order to simply continue being horns; and high register violin sections etc. will need some extra work to bring them up as well. This isn’t boosting their line with different instruments, it is using the facilities in GPO and Overture to overcome the inherent compromises in electronic sound samples.

The horns often need doubling to compete with the rest of the band, and in ff upwards passages, I use the overlays provided and double them up with the other horn parts. I haven’t needed the ones for trumpet and trombone yet. Then the strings begin to fade away, especially the 1st violins when we scream up into the stratosphere. The Garritan forum had some pointed comments suggesting a certain inadequacy – but the answers were quite good.

For soft but vibrant string sound I used the “lush” samples, and for loud passages in a fully orchestrated “Romantic” score, doubling lush with standard samples filled out the texture a bit – but still lacking. Back to the controller table at the end of the Aria manual – CC#16 is used to give “high frequency content, and saturation”. That is what I want, so back to Overture window, graphics window, (first box) select control change, (next box) select controller#16, go to the required passage – useful for me to have both score and graphics window open at same time (hope I will still be able to do that in Overture 5?) – and draw in values at the same level as the dynamic markings on the score (bar numbers essential here for me to know where I am).

When I played it back I was delighted. I don’t know of any score mark I could use to achieve this in musical notation – but who cares, Overture is brilliant – just giving us the graphics window allows input on any of the controllers. It doesn’t seem to pick up values from the score notation (don’t panic – it may not show what you already input direct to the score, but it is all still there), but it allows me to input, and it passes that through to Aria. The result is tons better than I was achieving even a couple of months back.

Joseph’s tutorial shows how to do legato (note that you cannot do this with repeated notes, they will become tied if you do. For smooth transition set length to 99%, or 96 if humanised to allow for the random offset. The humanising function in Notes (after highlighting a passage) works quite well – EXCEPT: don’t use it with quick dotted rhythms and at other rhythm/pulse-sensitive places, nor with flowing quick notes, and avoid with repeated notes unless you are very careful. It is very useful where several instruments are playing the same tune – it stops them all playing perfectly in time together – same with block chord type passages – stops it sounding too much like a computer!

Of course the orchestra has sectional strings, and any human variation within the section has to be what Garritan put into the sample, 1st violins, 2nd violins etc. are single fonts representing the whole section. However there will be variation between 1sts and 2nds, violas, cellos and basses, and more if they are used divisi – and it works well enough for me.

Phrasing is done naturally through keyboard or when playing an instrument – but not in notation input. A musical phrase usually tapers away at its end, grows towards higher notes, falls towards low ones – all of these have to be programmed in using hairpins, legato input and dynamics. Overture has all the tools, but it can be a shock to find the composer/arranger has to actually do all the work. A beautiful melody can be ruined by a philistine computer that runs through to the end without slackening pace, nor relenting in volume – the ebb and flow, the natural sighing of the music needs to be programmed in just as much as the melody and harmony. The composer/conductor’s work does not stop with the notes!

It is an on-going learning process – and every new discovery and understanding has often meant a major rework of the piece – hours or days of work. What I’ve written might help someone avoid at least some of that repetition. So I suggest there is enough in Overture and GPO4 to produce a very satisfying result – yes, It takes a fair bit of work, it isn’t straight out the box, but using the ideas I outline, it is all there – as long as the orchestration is good in the first place, the result can be great. And what a joy to hear your music played back!!! Thanks, Don.

If anyone else is composing through notation – hope this is useful – and, please, share your experiences and solutions with me and any others wanting to learn – we might be a dying breed!


(A thing of beauty is a joy forever; beauty is truth, truth beauty, that is all ye know on earth, and all ye need to know – John Keats)

(I’m not a complete idiot – there are some parts missing.)

PostPosted: Fri May 17, 2013 2:50 am 
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Joined: Fri Mar 30, 2007 10:50 am
Posts: 988
Location: The Hague
Hi Alan,

a great piece. Your explanation of the how's and why's is very useful, thank you for that. I anybody else would do that sort of survey and study! The only thing is that I got the impression that you avoided sudden dynamics, let's say from p to ff in one step. This will make it a bit more interesting to listen. But as this is the 3rd part of th whole work maybe I just told you some nonsens, it completely depends on how other pieces will develop.

Anyway, this piece amused me very much and congratulations getting it done so well with GPO.


Windows 10/64, Overture, Altiverb, Voxengo EQ, VSL instruments, VEP, Amadeus, PianoTeq

PostPosted: Sun Aug 11, 2013 12:19 pm 
Super Man

Joined: Sat Jul 31, 2010 2:37 pm
Posts: 1020
Location: Tucson, AZ USA
How wonderful to have stumbled upon your "tutorial". I especially liked your comments about Romantic period orchestration/composition as I am drawn to that immensely. Geez, what would Anton Bruckner have achieved with Overture??? Then again, he sure didn't suffer from not having it, nor Mahler, nor ......

I too just notate- no midi input. And, yes, the program is pretty wonderful in the tools it gives you. My only gripes have to do with glitches when the program and Aria 4 don't communicate correctly (as I've posted recently). I'm hoping OV5 will correct those things. I have found that being able to hear a convincing playback of a large score is quite addictive, and inspiring. I can't get enough of it. I've been fortunate to have had a few full orchestra works performed here in Tucson (not a bad feat for a self taught musician) but not having to wait for the commitment of a symphony orchestra organization to hear a piece back is a blessing. Now if I could just get a hold of Steven Spielberg... :lol: Thank you for sharing your work. Wonderful job! PM me if you'd like to hear some of mine or share more.
Your post here was very instructive.

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